Meet Karaikudi Kaalai all-rounder Nivethan Radhakrishnan, the Indian born wonder-kid creating waves in Australia
Rolling back the clock a decade, I was just 14, preparing for my tenth standard public exam with a big question mark over my future. Should I take Computer Science and pursue engineering like all my cousins and most of the students at that time or opt for a different route and end up in the journalism sector? These were questions that went through my mind every single day.
But, there is a certain kid, in fact, a wonder kid, in New South Wales, who is contemplating whether to represent Australia or India in international cricket. Born in Chennai to a former Tamil Nadu under-25 cricketer, Nivethan Radhakrishnan is making giant strides in New South Wales where he plays age-group cricket.
Nivethan started to make headlines in 2011 when he took a hat-trick in a TNCA fourth division league match in spite of being just eight years old. A year later, he scored a century off just 60 balls in an under-12 match. These were clear indications that cricket was in his blood. He took up the sport after seeing his father play and now, is making his dad proud.
"I don't know what to say. Even before I started walking, I used to hold my father's cricket bat. I liked this sport a lot when I was a kid and didn't like watching TV. So, I had to play with what was around me and the only thing I found was my father's cricket kit.
"As I grew up, I used to see my father and gained a lot of interest in cricket. No one forced me to take up the game. He taught me the basics and I started playing by myself," Nivethan said when asked about how he developed an interest in the sport.
Also read: 5 cricketers who bowled with both hands
Nivethan is a left-handed batsman and his bowling style is something not everyone can replicate. The 14-year-old is blessed with the ability to bowl with both hands. Yes, he can bowl right-arm off-spin and slow left-arm orthodox. He considers himself ambidextrous and is very confident that he can bowl equally well with either hand.
The world hasn't seen any ambidextrous bowler at the highest level even though the likes of former South African spinner Robin Peterson, Aussie batsman George Bailey, Tamil Nadu spinner Aushik Srinivas, Maharashtra's Akshay Karnevar et al. have the ability to use both hands.
"Basically, right has been my natural arm since my childhood. But, when it comes to cricket, I am ambidextrous. I started bowling right-arm off-spin and learnt the art of bowling with my left hand as I continued playing. To be honest, I can close my eyes and bowl with both arms without any difficulties," he said.
Talking about variety while bowling, the first name that comes to mind is that of legendary West Indian all-rounder Sir Garfield Sobers. The Barbadian could bowl left-arm medium pace, slow left-arm and left-arm chinaman with ease.
Incidentally, Nivethan is a big fan of the West Indian legend. But, the youngster denied taking inspiration from his idol, admitting instead that he started bowling with his left hand even before he had begun following Sobers.
He said, "Sobers has nothing to do with me bowling with both my hands. I started bowling with my left hand even before I became a fan of Sobers. In fact, I started bowling with my left hand when I was six. I wanted something to separate me from the other players. I tried this in the nets and it came out well."
But, wait. He is born in 2003, nearly 30 years after his idol retired; there is no chance of him having watched Sobers play live. Children born in the 21st century have grown up watching the likes of Hashim Amla, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers etc. play, but Nivethan conceded that he always preferred watching videos of the matches that were played in the 1970s rather than the modern era, thanks to his father. He also revealed that he is a big fan of the West Indian team.
"My idol is Sir Garfield Sobers. When I was young, my father made me watch cricket that was played in the 1970s rather than the matches that took place when I was growing up. By watching those matches, I became a big fan of the West Indian team.
"Once, I stumbled upon one of Sobers' videos and got attracted to his style of play. I used to bowl with both arms while Sobers had a lot of variety in his left-arm bowling and I found that unique. By watching more videos of him, I became his fan," he said, narrating how his love affair with Sobers began.
Starting his career as a youth in Chennai, Nivethan was forced to move with his father Mr. Anbu Selvan to New South Wales for personal reasons. But, he ensured that he continued to play the game Down Under. Most international players find it difficult to adapt to the conditions in Australia and the case was no different with the youngster. Though it was difficult for him early on, his passion towards the sport helped him acclimatise quickly.
"When I started playing cricket in Chennai, it became a routine for me. But, when I went to Australia things were completely different. The people, the way they play the sport, the conditions, everything was new to me. It was a bit difficult for me to adapt, but my passion for the game, along with the hours I put in, made me overcome the hurdle.
"Now, I am used to playing in all the conditions. I have set my mindset in such a way that it is easier for me to play the game irrespective of the conditions," he added.
Nivethan, who is in the ninth grade at the Homebush High School in Sydney, wants to excel in both academics and cricket. Growing up, his father made sure that he could play cricket only if he excelled in his studies.
"My parents back me in whatever I do," said Nivethan. "My mom has always supported me when it comes to studies. My dad used to tell me that if I don't concentrate on studies, he won't allow me to play cricket. So, studies have always been my priority. I know whenever I study well, I will play cricket. More than my father, my mother wants me to excel in cricket. My father rarely enquires about my studies and my mother won't do that too," he added.
In spite of being 14, Nivethan has earned himself a place in the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) side Karaikudi Kaalai. The franchise snapped him up for just 50,000 INR for the second season, but unfortunately, he is yet to get a chance to prove his worth.
When he came to India during the Aussie winter, he had a trial with the franchise but was unsure about whether he would be picked. He returned home but when he found out about his selection, flew back to India again.
When asked about his selection, Nivvi said, "Last season, I had come to India during the off-season (Australian winter). Once my vacation was over, I went back to Australia and did really well. So, I decided to come back to India again and give a trial with the Karaikudi franchise.
"I was not sure about getting picked in the trial and in spite of that, I gave one before heading back to Australia. When I got to know that I was picked in the TNPL draft, I was very happy and flew back to India again just in time for the tournament."
Karaikudi Kaalai have a lot of veterans in their set-up and interacting with them will be a blessing in disguise for the youngster. Led by Subramaniam Badrinath, Kaalai have experienced players like C Ganapathy, and Aniruddha Srikanth and are coached by Mumbai Indians' batting coach Robin Singh, with Abey Kuruvilla acting as their consultant.
The 14-year-old all-rounder is not worried even if the big names in the team do not take the time out to talk to him separately. He says he is learning a lot just by standing next to them and listening to what they discuss in team meetings, watching Badri and Aniruddha bat in the nets. Adding to that, he also praised Robin Singh for being humble and helping him whenever needed.
Though he is yet to get a chance to make a name for himself in India, his records are outstanding in age group cricket (New South Wales Premier Cricket) in Sydney. He was a part of former Australian captain Michael Clarke's cricket academy and is a household name among the locals who follow grassroots level cricket. In spite of being 14, he plays for an under-16 team.
Earlier this year, he created history in New South Wales' Moore Shield by scoring a record 562 runs at an average of 112.40. In the process, he also notched up three centuries (192*, 156, 100).
With the ball, he was equally good as he picked up 12 wickets in the tournament and went on to win the Moore Shield Player of the Year and the best batsman award.
His unbeaten 192 grabbed the attention of several Australian cricket legends including the likes of Greg Chappell, Steve Waugh, and Australian selector Mark Waugh. Being just 14, he still has a long way to go in his career and just like any other aspiring cricketer, playing international cricket is his long-term goal.
But, in his case, it is complicated. He is eligible to play for both India and Australia and is still unsure of who he wants to represent.
"I still don't have clarity about this (which country to play for). I am starting to get noticed by the Aussie selectors and most of them in India don't know me. This is my first tournament in India. India is my home country and at the same time, Australia gave me a lot of opportunities. I like both the teams and choosing only one will be unfair to the other. I am just 14 and I have a lot of time to think about this. I am just keeping all my options open," he concluded.
After their first four matches, Karaikudi Kaalai are inside the top-4 and in with a chance to make it to the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the team management uses Nivethan in the upcoming matches.
A member of the team's coaching staff said that Nivvi is capable of playing alongside the big names in TNPL. He also added that he caught the eye of everyone in the team during the trial.
He should not be rushed into the national scene anytime soon. Instead, the coaches and the administrators should nurture and handle him properly so that his talent does not go to waste. With age on his side, Nivethan can only become a better player in the future.